Way back in 2018, I went to New York's only dedicated gaming convention, Play NYC, with several other colleagues from TechRaptor. Among the many games I found was Aquamarine, a pretty little survival game with a retrofuturistic aesthetic, chill music, and beautiful art. Patric Fallon of Moebial Studios left a career in music journalism to make his dream come alive and he seemed pretty darn passionate about it.
That game soon made its way to Kickstarter in late 2018, but it didn't manage to make its goal. Now, Fallon is bringing his game back to Kickstarter after more than a year of hard work and a couple of new developers added to the team. I had a chat with him over email about what happened and what's in store for the future of Aquamarine and Moebial Studios.
Aquamarine: Funding, Failure, and Moving West
The first thing I wanted to know was the most important question: Why did Fallon think that the first campaign only made it roughly 40% of the way to its end goal of $25,000?
"It would be easy to point to a number of external factors that contributed to our first campaign's failure," he said. "But more importantly, we just weren't as prepared as we could have been. Because of time and money pressures, we rushed to get the game on Kickstarter, and it was a perfect storm of bad scheduling, lack of experience, and unfinished work. That said, I'm still blown away that we raised as much as we did. And the amount we learned and the support we gained made it all absolutely worth the effort."
Expenses for the game's first campaign were (in Fallon's words) "incredibly high," largely attributed to the cost of living in Brooklyn for himself and the development team. The high prices meant more time working at other jobs and less time working on the game, ultimately limiting what they could get done in time for the first Kickstarter campaign.
Since then, he has moved 3,000 miles West to a tiny town in Northern California. The cost of living is much lower, and he's had the time to reevaluate the game and its dev team, making several changes for the second go-around.
"Over the course of moving and regrouping after our previous Kickstarter failed, many things shifted for everyone involved," Fallon said. "When it was time for me to start up development and preparation for our new Kickstarter campaign, only Moebial's animator, Drew Brouillette, was still available.
"I spent months finding the right people to replace the awesome team we had before, and I'm not exaggerating when I say everyone we work with now has elevated Aquamarine to a new level. Without that previous Kickstarter failing, we wouldn't be in the place we are now. I'm actually happy we didn't succeed."
After more than a year of regrouping (and working on a solo game), Patric Fallon of Moebial Studios is ready to try again on Kickstarter. The funding goal will be a little more attainable: $12,540, roughly half of what he tried to raise the first time around. He will also be showing a game that's had drastic improvements over its first presentation.
Aquamarine: Same Idea, New Crew
Who are the people behind Aquamarine this time around? Fallon was all too happy to share. Aside from himself, Drew Brouillette returns as the animator — and as the only original team member who had time in his schedule to keep working on the game.
Lead art duties have been taken on by Leonardo d'Almeida, a Brazilian artist with a surreal style that is close to the intended ultimate design for Aquamarine. Much of what you see in the game looks similar to his art and also distinct in its own special way.
Finally, the music. The tunes in the early version were pretty good and that left a pretty big gap in the dev team, but U.K. sound designer and composer Thomas Hoey was all too happy to step up for the game's revival.
Fallon had told me that the game had undergone some changes in the time since it was first on Kickstarter. I asked him what new things players could be looking forward to.
"So much!" he began. "It would be silly to try to list everything that's been added to the game since 2018. We've been working tirelessly to show as much of the game's full concept as we can. The biggest bullet points, though, include a complete overhaul of the environments you explore, a relaxing and gorgeous generative soundtrack, an entirely new gardening system to grow the food you need to survive, loads of new art and animation, a more fleshed-out comic book aesthetic, new creatures, new ship [power-ups] and abilities to aid your exploration… That's just the beginning."
Another key element he highlighted was a consequence of the rush to Kickstarter the first time around. The game I went hands-on with a one-and-a-half years ago was plenty fine, but I was surprised to learn that many game systems were disabled for the convention demo as they weren't yet ready. Those systems have since been fleshed out and are ready for prime time.
One might be concerned about the style of game this is going to be — there are countless abandoned survival crafting games that began on Kickstarter and died a slow death on Steam Early Access. Moebial Studios aims to avoid that fate with Aquamarine; Fallon states that there will be a definitive ending, and there won't be any way to endlessly roam around the world, either. You're trying to get home, after all.
There won't be any hand-holding, as well. In Fallon's own words, "exploration and survival are meant to be in service of pushing the story forward." You'll be driven to keep moving lest you starve, get killed, or suffer some other sort of terrible fate in the depths.
"More than anything, I want Aquamarine to be a small but sturdy stepping stone for Moebial Studios. Our design aims at quality over quantity because we want to show off what we're capable of, even on a shoestring budget. We have new ideas for how a game experience can feel, we want to experiment with storytelling, and we want to surround those concepts in a lush, immersive package. If we can get that across to most people who pick up Aquamarine, then it's a success. Maybe it's a funny analogy, but I think of it almost like a business card: a compact but impressive representation of what Moebial Studios is all about. If we nail that and get it in the right hands, we want to build on those relationships with more unconventional ideas and rich world building." — Patric Fallon, Moebial Studios
Moebial Studios' Sink or Swim Moment
There's not much more to talk about other than the finer, concrete details of the game. When is it coming to Kickstarter? When will it launch, and how much will it cost?
The second Kickstarter campaign is going to be launching soon. Very soon, in fact; it goes live on Jan. 22. I've already seen a preview of it, and I can say that it's a pretty solid presentation.
If the story behind this studio and the game they're creating intrigues you, you can head on over to the game's Kickstarter campaign and set up a notification for when it launches. From there, you'll have at least 30 days to make your contribution to the project.
I did, of course, take the time to ask about the gut-wrenching possibility of failing for the second time. Fallon has learned many harsh lessons since the first campaign, moving halfway across the country and approaching his project with new vigor. Despite all that effort, failure is still very much a possibility.
"Our full efforts and energies are focused on Kickstarter success, and that's all that matters at this point," he said. "Suffice it to say that this will be our last crowdfunding campaign for Aquamarine. We're gonna make it count!"
While the enthusiasm and optimism are laudable, I'm still the type of person who likes to prepare for the worst and pressed on — in the (hopefully unlikely) event that an Aquamarine Kickstarter fails a second time, what will Moebial Studios do?
"If it came down to it, I would pivot to pitching the game to publishers and private funding options," Fallon said. "We've been approached by a handful of people, and I think it could be a good fit.
"Aquamarine will get finished no matter what."
For now, Patric is laser-focused on the Kickstarter campaign. If all goes well, he'll continue development with his team. The game's initial launch will be for the PC, Mac, and Linux, and Moebial Studios is targeting a Q4 2020 release window. Odds are, a copy of the finished product won't cost more than $14.99.
Beyond that, what will happen with Aquamarine? Will it be coming to consoles?
"I heard a rumor that people like playing indie games on their Nintendos now," Fallon concluded. "Maybe we'll look into that."